Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bush's Bubble

Anecdotes from those in and around the Bush administration have suggested that Bush as president is largely insulated-or even isolated-from daily events that affect his presidency. That has never been as evident as in his recent handling of the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina, as discussed in length in these two articles from Newsweek and Time. It appears that to a large degree, Bush has only himself and his unwillingness to be contradicted or given bad news, to blame for his isolation. This from Newsweek:

"It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed."

And this from Time:

"The President’s Increasing Isolation: A related factor, aides and outside allies concede, is what many of them see as the President’s increasing isolation. Bush’s bubble has grown more hermetic in the second term, they say, with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad news—or tell him when he’s wrong. A youngish aide who is a Bush favorite described the perils of correcting the boss. 'The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me,' the aide recalled about a session during the first term. 'Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, ‘All right. I understand. Good job.’ He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom.'"

That Bush is largely a self-isolated president more interested in loyalty then plain truth(which can be equated as dissent and thus disloyalty)became clearer and clearer throughout his first term. But it has never been as obvious as it was when Katrina struck. Bush,though aware that New Orleans was rapidly flooding, seemed unaware of the scale of the devestation that was about to be wreaked upon the city. And the largely uncurious Bush, instead of trying to get a handle on the situation, went to bed early that Tuesday night(as reported in the Newsweek article) and continued the next day with his plans to give a speech on Iraq.

A full examination of a presidency by historians is never really possible until the president leaves office and his subordinates begin to feel free to talk and presidential papers become more and more available. But it is not to early to say that Bush's isolation has been a hallmark of his administration, and one that has proven deletorious not only to his legacy, but to the nation as a whole.

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